About a half-decade ago, as an undergraduate student at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Eva Hendricks landed a plum internship, spiritually at least: transcribing Lizzie Goodman’s interviews for what would become Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011.
“Working on that book is one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the honor of doing,” she remembers. “Some of the bands featured in it, like The Strokes, are my favorite bands of all time. Getting to hear their unfiltered interviews was really inspiring. When you listen to people who’ve gone on to become these massive figures in your head describe the beginnings of their careers, you realize they’re all just people. It taught me to dream bigger.”
At the time, Eva was another regular person at the beginning of her own career. As a high schooler in Connecticut, she had met guitarist (and fellow theater kid) Greg Fox, and by 2011 the two had self-released an EP under the name Charly Bliss. Not long after, the band would be joined on drums by Eva’s brother Sam. By the time Eva graduated college in 2015, Charly Bliss had released a few more EPs, mildly reshuffled its line-up (adding bassist Dan Shure), and toured with the likes of Sleater-Kinney, Wolf Parade, and Veruca Salt.
But it was with 2017’s Guppy – its debut LP, which the band recorded twice at a not insignificant cost after being unsatisfied with the first effort – that Charly Bliss truly arrived on the national stage. Overflowing with sugary melodies, serrated guitars, and Eva’s Ginsu wit, the album immediately attracted a cult following, many of whom heard the ghosts of ‘90s bubble-grunge past in the band’s sound.
And while elements of those comparisons may have been fair, Charly Bliss has essentially made them irrelevant with Young Enough. On its recently released sophomore effort, the band has blown out its poppier tendencies, swapped (some) guitars for synths, and draped everything in the pristine production of Joe Chiccarelli. It’s a grand sound, and across eleven tracks, Eva’s songwriting – somehow laid more bare than Guppy, often addressing an abusive former relationship – and the band’s finely honed arsenal of hooks and bridges repeatedly rise beyond the occasion.
“Spitting me out, and I should say something nice?” she sings on “Bleach”. “I’m fucking joy and I hemorrhage light.”
Eva’s words are lathered in sarcasm, but these are the lines I return to when thinking about Young Enough. It’s 39 minutes of fucking joy and hemorrhaging light.
Check your Letters to Cleo references at the door. With all due respect, Letter to Cleo never made a record like this. No one this year has, either. While it’s undoubtedly premature to say, it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying record coming our way in 2019.
“Even though I’ve always loved being this band, I never dreamed we would be where we are now,” says Eva, talking to me with her brother from Brooklyn in late May. “But I realized listening to those interviews that everything starts small.”
Some of the discussion around Young Enough – both what critics have written and in your own press materials – is that it’s “unapologetically” pop. That implies a certain sense of shame or guilt with relation to pop music. In 2019, where does that come from?
Eva: I actually think we’re living in a really cool moment for pop music. The general idea of “guilty-pleasure” music is waning, which is a really good thing. With Spotify and having access to basically all of the music you could ever dream of, the lines of genre have blurred. People are less firmly rooted in their camps of I only listen to Sonic Youth. People don’t feel the need to be so rigid about what they think is cool or uncool.
We felt super inspired by pop music for this record. It makes perfect sense that we would follow up Guppy with a pop album – or one that’s leaning more in that direction. As far as we see it, Guppy was a pop album, too. I think the foundation of both records is fun and catchy melodies and larger-than-life production. On Guppy, we used really loud guitars to communicate that, whereas on Young Enough we’re using different textures and synths and kind of arranging songs differently. We were leaning further into something we felt we had already started.
When we said “unapologetically,” we just meant we’re going for it. It was like, “Bring it on.”
Sam: There definitely has been a stigma around pop music for a very long time. But it’s a misconception that all pop music is a cookie-cutter, churned-out single of the week. That’s totally untrue. There are plenty of pop musicians that have a ton of depth.
One of our biggest inspirations for this album was Lorde’s Melodrama. It’s a perfect example of balancing pop-leaning, catchy melodies with really deep and substantial lyrics.
Young Enough feels like the type of record that a band used to make after it signed a major label deal and received a massive recording budget. Charly Bliss has done well, but you’re still signed to Barsuk, you’re still playing clubs. How did you pull it off?
Eva: I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and believe in your vision. Obviously, not to a ridiculous point – it’s also good to have people rein you a little bit. We feel lucky that we had a manager who believed in these songs from very early on, after hearing the demoes. He encouraged us to do whatever it would take to make this album.
And, you know, that’s something I’m really proud of with this album: We really did it. We’ve been through the experience of making an album twice and not getting it right and not being very specific about your hopes for how the album will sound. That happened with Guppy.
We were really proud of these songs. It would have been really disappointing to not commit all the way and work with a producer like Joe Chiccarelli who would push us and help us achieve the type of record we wanted to make.
We were very intentional about wanting to grow on this album, both as writers and creatively, but also because we’re very ambitious people. We wanted to feel like we were stepping it up on this album. I’m super proud of the fact that we did whatever we had to do to make that happen.
I saw one of you mention that Fountains of Wayne was as much a touchstone for the band as any of the early / mid-90s female-fronted acts that Charly Bliss often draws comparison to. So, I have to ask, favorite Fountain of Wayne album? Favorite songs?
Eva: Oh my god, we are huge fans. In a lot of ways, Fountains of Wayne is a bigger influence on our band than mid-90s female-fronted rock groups. Honestly, we love those bands now, but I didn’t really find out about a lot of them until I was in college and then doing this. Sometimes it was just through having people compare us to those bands that I’d be like, “Oh, I should listen to that.” [Laughs]
I was just going back and forth with someone over what’s the best Fountains of Wayne album… [Sighs] I love Welcome Interstate Managers.
Sam: That’s my favorite.
Sam: “Stacy’s Mom” is a perfect pop song. I don’t care what anyone says.
Eva: It’s the perfect pop song!
Sam: It’s one of the greatest pop songs ever written in my opinion. I truly believe that.
Eva: I don’t think it gets the credit it deserves. People write it off as some goofy thing, but have you ever seen someone put “Stacy’s Mom” on at a party and not had everyone start freaking out? C’mon. It’s magic.
With exception of Sam, you were all theater kids. Do you think there’s any element of that – not really the shared experience per se, but perhaps shared personality characteristics – that manifest itself in Charly Bliss, whether it be the music or its presentation?
Eva: I definitely think we’re all performers. We all have really big personalities and we love to be totally goofy with one another, and I think there’s something about that really allows for vulnerability when you’re writing songs. There’s just something about theater and musical theater.
I think it was a major missed opportunity that Sam didn’t do theater.
Sam: I was in the pit. I was the guy in the pit playing percussion.
Eva: And you were great at it, but now we know that Sam is a wonderful actor as well.
I think there’s a sense of being comfortable with one another and a certain confidence and openness to rejection that’s important to being in a band, just as it is in theater and acting.
When Sam and I did musical theater together, we were there for hours and hours after school, and there’s something really wonderful about learning that work ethic at a young age. The same can be said about having people critique you and going back and improving a performance. I feel really lucky that I grew up with that. It’s pretty similar to what Sam grew up with in terms of jazz band and studying classical percussion.
It’s awesome when you’re used to working every day and understanding that the first time you play something it’s not just like, “OK, cool, we’re done.” You learn to think, “No, we have to run this again and again and again. We’re trying to be the best we can possibly be.”
Speaking of dramatic arcs, I wanted to talk about the sequencing of the record. What was the thought process behind ordering these tracks? It feels bold in a way to put “Chatroom” and “Hard to Believe” so late in the record.
Sam: I’m pretty obsessive about sequencing. I make spreadsheets. I think about every combination, obviously paying most attention to the flow of the album.
Strategically, especially nowadays when people don’t have the attention span to listen to a whole album, it probably makes sense to put your best songs as close to the top of the album as you can. But I love albums that have a real flow to them, and I love albums that keep you engaged throughout the whole record.
My favorite sequencing of all time is Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. It has peaks and valleys, and it all works together. It’ll go from a song like “Oh Comely” right into “Ghost”, one of the most exciting songs on the record. I tried to do a similar thing with the song “Young Enough”, which is definitely the centerpiece of the record but also very different from anything we’ve ever done before. When you follow it up with a song like “Bleach”, that becomes this emotional release.
I just love an album that keeps you engaged and makes you want listen to it to all the way through. Seeing song like “Chatroom” and “Hard to Believe” at the end, you’re like, “Oh, I have to stick around for this.”
Eva: From the beginning, when we were writing a song like “Hurt Me”, it was inspired by seeing Lorde play at Barclays Center and seeing how a song like “Liability” or “Writer in the Dark” worked in her set. Having a moment that’s so down and quiet and intimate makes the highs feel higher. Following “Chatroom” with “Hurt Me” does that as well, and then “Hurt Me” does a similar thing with “Hard to Believe” coming out of it.
We were happy to have different emotional moments to play with on the album.
“Camera” covers a few different things, but I was curious about the titular subject at the beginning – and the end – of the song. It obviously sounds like you had your credit card information stolen. Is there anything else to the story?
Eva: It is exactly that story: My credit card information was stolen, and they used it to buy a camera. I wrote that song while I was on hold with TD Bank. I literally came up with the melody while I was on hold, and I didn’t want to forget it, and I was like, “Oh my god, by the time someone picks up the other end of the phone I’m totally going to forget this.” So, I rushed to try to get my iPad open and Voice Memo record it into Garage Band or whatever.
I think your brain plays tricks on you in songwriting. When you know you don’t have the ability to record something or write it down, your brain keeps coming up with these awesome melodies to taunt you. It’s like, “Haha! You’re never going to be able to remember this!”
But I got it down. In the first demo of the song, you can hear the TD Bank hold music in the background.
Band photo courtesy of Ebru Yildiz.